What are we really teaching your child?
Presenting the keynote address at the Californian Music Teachers’ Association in 2017, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “Performance is performance; it doesn’t matter whether you’re on a concert stage or in a board room.” Dr Rice was sharing her experiences as both a pianist and leader. Sitting in the audience, I was enthralled by her stories of the joy and challenges she’s had learning the piano growing up and how they impacted on her later in life.
I have taught little kids, like the young Condoleezza, since 1989 and I love watching them grow up and develop as musicians and people. Teachers hold an important role in the lives of children. I regularly ponder, what are we really teaching our students? Of course, we teach them to play the piano, but our students really gain so much more from the experience.
Learning a creative art like the piano has some extraordinary side-benefits. It helps build resilience, self-esteem and develops the courage to take risks. And then there’s the stress relief!
Back in 1989, I started teaching five-year-old Lizzy. When Lizzy was 15, all grown up and preferring to be called Elizabeth, her mum approached me after a lesson saying, “Thank goodness for the piano, because the piano gets it and the rest of family doesn’t.” It turned out that Elizabeth was taking out her teenage frustrations on the piano instead of anyone else. She had done grade 6 piano and learnt to improvise and play some contemporary pop songs. She was never going to be an exceptional piano player but Elizabeth enjoyed playing and making music for herself. I know she went on to become a doctor but unfortunately I lost touch with the family. I would bet that if Elizabeth has her own kids today, they’ll be learning music, because she personally experienced its benefits.
Smart kids learn music…with a little help from creative teachers.
Learning to be creative at the piano will help students, even if this creativity is limited to how to play and interpret their next examination piece. Simply exploring and developing skills on the piano will assist your child to develop their own creativity, but there is so much more they can do! Encourage your child to try to work out their favourite song on the piano. Ask them to sing and play. All of these activities help students explore by delving into simple creativity exercises. Make sure you tell your teacher when your child does this, so they can help them even more.
During the World Economic Forum in 2017, former English teacher Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of tech giant, Alibaba, spoke about the need for learning the creative arts, as it equips children with the thinking processes for new world jobs and employment. Mr Ma said:
“We cannot teach our kids to compete with the machines — they are smarter. We have to teach our kids something unique … sports, music, painting, art. Everything we teach should be different from machines.”
Jack Ma also said, “A teacher should learn all the time; a teacher should share all the time. Education is a big challenge now — if we do not change the way we teach, 30 years later we will be in trouble.”
Your teacher is offering you this article because they understand the importance of embracing and teaching creativity. There are many simple ideas to help engage your child both musically and creatively. Along with creativity, your teacher can also help build resilience.
By building resilience in children and helping them take responsibility for their own learning, we prepare them for the future. This needs to happen during the first few years of learning, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As teachers, we only see students for 30-60 minutes a week (if we’re lucky). Parents see their children every day. Parental involvement in the learning process is vital, especially during the beginning to intermediate (grade 4-5) stages.
Listening to your child/ren play, and creating a culture of celebrating performance in the home, are supportive and productive ways that parents can be involved in a child’s learning. Words of encouragement from parents and grandparents such as “Wow, that sounds great,” or “You’re playing that section really well and I can’t wait to hear the whole piece,” positively reinforce a child’s self-esteem and build confidence. Relatives’ affirmations contribute to building resilient adults.
When I heard Dr Rice speak about performing for her family as a child, I was reminded of my own journey. From a young age, I regularly played for guests that visited the family home.
Sometimes my mum encouraged me to tackle a piece that wasn’t quite up to performance standard. She’d say, “Have a go at the piece you’re learning at the moment.” At the time I was terrified, but on reflection I realise how invaluable that gentle nudge from my mum has been in helping me forge my own professional and personal path. The experience of taking on the risk of performance failure makes children aware of effort-equals-rewards, and what is required to perform at a high standard.
In “Music in our Lives”, an analysis of the results of a 14-year- long study of over 150 children learning music, co-author Gary McPherson wrote that children, who were regularly encouraged to perform in the home for family and friends, were much more likely to continue learning. Risk and courage go hand in hand. Building the courage to deal with risk starts at home, and learning music is one way to encourage these attributes.
You can help at home. Try to make time to go through what your child intends to practice, even if it’s just a couple of times per week. Sit and listen to your child play and encourage them to perform for friends and family whenever possible.
While very few children are likely to be Australia’s next concert pianist, if you can help a child develop his/her love of music, you just never know, your child may become one of Australia’s next leaders or tech billionaires.
About the author...
Paul Myatt is a founding Director of Forte School of Music, a highly successful music school network which started in 1994 in Australia and now has over 5,500 students in 17 locations across Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. He is also the co-author of Theory Fundamentals, a theory course designed to making learning fun.
He started his teaching career in 1985 and currently teaches around 80 piano students in classes at Forte School of Music Dee Why (Sydney, NSW). Many of his student participate in examinations from Grade 1 – 8 as well as improvisation, composition and singing & playing pop songs.
He is a passionate believer in the benefits of music education and his personal mission in life is to help to educate teachers, students and parents in having fun learning music as well as facilitating life-long music learning.
Paul is an expert in class piano teaching techniques and is a regular workshop speaker who has presented in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom and the United States. Paul has just had a paper accepted to present at the London Music Expo in March 2019.
Photo Credits: Condoleezza Rice & Jack Ma from Shutterstock.com